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One of the exhibits created by students in the Creating Digital History course:

The Stonewall Inn: The Spark of the Revolution

by Shannon Elliott

The Stonewall Inn, located in the heart of Greenwich Village, is the site of what many believe to be the turning point in the Gay Rights movement. The Stonewall Riots began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 and continued for several nights following. While police raids of gay bars were a fairly common practice at this time, that night the patrons fought back and as a result, changed the course of history. The courage and strength displayed by the men and women outside of the Stonewall Inn that night inspired the gay community to take action and to let their voices be heard.

Not long after the riots the Gay Rights movement began to take shape. Groups like the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance were formed and began to bring the gay community together through political action. These groups took their fight to the streets and captured the country’s attention with a movement that would only continue to gain momentum. The first Gay Pride parade was held a year later in June 1970 to commemorate the events of Stonewall.

The men and women who stood up against police harrassment at Stonewall that night sparked a revolution. Even at a time when few establishments welcomed openly gay people, homosexual sex was illegal in nearly every state, and there were no laws protecting gay me or women from losing their jobs if their sexuality was discovered, they fought back and defended their rights. While the journey is not over, the changes that have occurred throughout the country in support of gay rights in the last 43 years are a testament to the success of the Gay Rights movement that had precipitated from the riot. The legacy that the Stonewall Riots left is a powerful message; a legacy of acceptance, hope, and determination for the LGBT community.

Go to exhibit.

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When Kim Brinster, owner of the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, announced that the store would be closing its doors on March 29, 2009 due to economic troubles many people were probably not very surprised. With the economy in rough shape it was not exactly uncommon for smaller local shops to go under. However, the historical significance of this shop, while unknown to some, made this loss a very personal one for many. The bookstore, located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, was an integral part of the early Gay Rights movement and has a unique legacy that should not be forgotten.

The bookstore, which was opened by Craig Rodwell in 1967, was the nation’s first gay bookstore. This was an incredibly risky decision on Rodwell’s part considering that during this time many gay activists were still using fake names to avoid the possibilty of getting arrested. However, he had been actively involved in the Gay Rights struggles for many years before using his personal savings to open the store. As a volunteer for the Mattachine Society of New York he worked to organize Mattachine Young Adults in early 1964, and later that year he participated in the picketing of New York’s Whitehall to protest the military’s practice of excluding gays from serving and for dishonorably discharging them if it was discovered later on. More notably, on April 21, 1966, Rodwell, along with Dick Leitsch and John Timmons, participated in the Sip-In at Julius bar in Greenwich Village, an event that predated the infamous Stonewall Riots in 1969, but is arguably just as important to the ignition of the Gay Liberation Movement. During this demonstration the men were protesting the New York State Liquor Authority rule which made the congregation of gays in places that served alcohol illegal. Their public protest eventually led to the end of the ruling later on.


Rodwell was also a key actor in the Stonewall Riots of 1969 as well. Although he did not participate directly in the protest, he was located just down the street from the bar and was able to respond quickly. As soon as he saw what was happening Rodwell called The New York Times, The New York Post, and The New York Daily News to inform them of what was happening and because of this all three papers were able to cover the riots. Rodwell’s call brought both local and national attention to the riots and more importantly, to the events that had caused them to transpire.

After this the Oscar Wilde Bookshop served as a type of community center for the gay community in the village. The cramoed back room of the shop served as a meeting space for Rodwell and his employees who were determined to bring change for the gay community. He not only inspired owners of gay bookshops around the country, but also formulated strategies for confronting police brutality. In 1970 the first gay pride parade was planned within the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, making it an important landmark in the Gay Liberation Movement.

Since it was opened by Craig Rodwell in 1967, the bookshop had gone through several changes in ownership. Rodwell sold the shop to the manager, Bill Offenbaker, before he passed away in 1993. The store had a new owner once again in 1996 until it was purchased by the owner of Lambda Rising Bookstores in Washington in 2003 in order to keep the store from going out of business. Store manager Kim Brinster took ownership of the shop in 2006 until its closing in 2009. Although the economic issues became too large to overcome the bookshop, which has now been closed for over three years, had a substantial impact on the Gay community in New York for over 42 years and carries with it a lasting legacy.

Sources:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/nyregion/04bookstore.html?_r=0

http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/54086/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craig_Rodwell

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In 2009, forty years after the Stonewall Riots, New York City rebranded itself as a Gay Destination. The city initiated a marketing campaign in relation to the ortieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. George A. Fertitta, a chief executive of NYC & company, the city’s tourism marketing agency “estimated that 10 percent of the city’s 47 million visitors last year were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and noted that out-of-town visitors spent $30 billion in the city last year” (Chan).  This shift showed how the city was trying to portray itself as a gay friendly metropolis to attract new visitors and to raise the city’s image as a safe place for homosexuals.

      The idea for a gay community march started in 1970 with the Christopher Street Gay Liberation March. The event originated outside of the Stonewall Inn, at 53 Christopher Street, the morning of June 28, 1970, and continued up Fifth Avenue to end in Central Park. The march started with only a few hundred people at Stonewall and ended with several thousand by the time it concluded in Central Park. The marches formed to bring gay and lesbian individuals together and show they were a sizable minority population, something that mainstream society did not believe. The purpose of the march was to build a safe community for homosexuals and part political rally (they were uniting for legal rights). Specifically, in the 1970s there was a need to create legislation that would protect this community from police brutality and police raids of gay bars and clubs.

The marches continued to bring awareness to causes that were specific to the homosexual community. By 1973, the Christopher Street Liberation Day March was already an expected event.  In a New York Times article, Homosexuals March Down 7th Avenue; Bars Represented To Each His Own’, John Darnton writes, “Singing, chanting, clad in festive and arresting garb. thousands of homosexuals and supporters of homosexuals’ rights marched through mid-Manhattan yesterday, past smiling policemen, wide-eyed tourists and blase New Yorkers who passed it off with a live-and-let-live shrug.” This shows the acceptance in a few short years by New Yorkers to the Gay Liberation Movement.

After rallying for political changes in the 70s, the 80s saw the need for AIDS awareness and healthcare reform. The 1983 Parade was organized by the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee, whose members said it was “dedicated to AIDS victims everywhere” (Mcgill). AIDS heavily effected the homosexual community, specifically in New York and San Francisco, since those two cities had the largest population of homosexuals living in them. The media type-casted the disease as being limited to homosexual and needle using drug addicts.  In AIDS Expert Sees No Sign of Heterosexual Outbreak, by Lawrence Altman of the New York Times, the Center for Disease Control stated, “The principal victims of AIDS in this country remain homosexual men and intravenous drug users, who together account for 9 out of 10 cases. Federal officials believe that about 4 percent of the nation’s reported AIDS cases were acquired through heterosexual intercourse, in many cases by the sexual partners of drug addicts.” This is further stated by Douglas McGill in his New York Times article, Homosexuals’ Parade Dedicated To AIDS Victims, where he states, “Of 1,641 cases of the ailment reported in the United States, the disease has killed 644 of its victims. New York City has reported 45 percent of all cases. Seventy-one percent of the victims of AIDS are said to be homosexual or bisexual men.”  Through rallying for support and awareness the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer community became aware that this disease could affect everyone. Education of safe sex and other practices can be linked to these movements. Many gay clubs and bars started providing free condoms to help support safe sex practices.

The 90s saw the petitioning of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a campaign that allowed gays and lesbians in the military as long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation. Prior to 1992, gays and lesbians were banned from serving in any branch of the military. With the election of Bill Clinton, many gays hoped to lift the ban against homosexuals serving in the armed forces. To reach a compromise, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was formed by the US Government and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To the homosexual community this was appalling, and the 90s saw many lawsuits to help repeal this act. It was not until 2011, and several other Presidents, that this act was finally overturned.

The 2000s was a time when most gay and lesbians fought for the right to marry their partners and adopt children. Gay couples were constantly denied the right to marry. Many heterosexual individuals saw the right to marry to be only between a man and a woman, others turned to religious scriptures to justify their arguments. The right to marry was also debated in Presidential elections, where it was argued it was a State’s right over Federal involvement. Homosexual couples wanted to the right two marry for several reasons, but two of the most important were:  If a partner was hospitalized, the right to find out or make medical decisions is reserved for spouses and immediate family members. This caused several conflicts because family and partners did not always get along. The second issue was adoption. Most adoption agencies will not allow a single unwed individual to adopt. Gay couples had to go through extra steps just to reserve the right to have a family. These issues are just some examples that differentiate homosexual and heterosexual married couples. Additionally, the GLBTQ community adopted a different stance to gain the right to marry and adopt. In Some Gay Rights Advocates Question Drive to Defend Same-Sex Marriage, by David Dunlap of the New York Times, states, “What we needed to learn from the military fight is that we have to build more political power before we win any gay issue on a national level.” Through marching, holding rallies, and gaining national attention to this issue, some states have granted gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. Furthermore, to show the support of adopting children, Pride Parades started to include family friendly activities.

The 2009 Gay Pride Parade differed from previous years because New York City’s government and tourism groups took a larger responsibility in helping plain and market the event. The biggest change the city implemented was to move the parade from its typical Sunday date and put it on Saturday. This change was mostly due to Father’s Day. If the parade stayed on Sunday it would have conflicted with that holiday.

The city invested 1.9 million dollars in advertising. This campaign was announced by the city and included a push in marketing in Europe and the Continental United States. According to The New York Times, “The $1.9 million marketing initiative includes print ads in the June/July issue of Out magazine, outdoor advertising in Britain and Spain, and online ads that will urge travelers to ‘Join the Rainbow Pilgrimage and plan your journey.’ The campaign also includes travel packages that can be booked at a new Web site (nycgo.com/gay), and partnerships with the tourism Web sites lastminute.com and Travelocity. Bus shelters and street banners in the city also will promote the campaign, which includes a trailer for a 30-minute documentary about gay life in New York by the filmmaker George Hickenlooper” (Chan) The campaign’s slogan was “Rainbow Pilgrimage” and painted NYC as Mecca for the gay community. In addition to marketing, NYC took a larger role in parade planning by telling the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer communities where events should be held and what kinds of events they should sponsor.

           The New York Times’: Stonewall Anniversary as Gay Tourism Event, allowed members of the gay community the opportunity to comment about the campaign online. The city painted itself as being a safe haven and a place where homosexuals are considered equal, but the comments almost all were negative about the city taking this stance since gays and lesbians still did not have equal rights. For example, in response to the article, Candice writes, “I’m personally sick of my queer identity being marketed and exploited when I’m still stuck here unable to get the same rights as most other people in this country.” This was a common reaction, but did not hinder the popularity of the parade.

Even with several homosexual organizations opposing the marketing campaign the parade was a huge success. The event was one of the highest attended Parades to date, which was impressive considering the bad economy. This parade also brought important attention to Gay Marriage, which at this time was being debated in several state legislatures and also with the Federal Government. The parade is a symbol that stands for hope and equality. Each year the GLBTQ community works hard to create educational, fun, safe, and diverse programs for everyone to enjoy.

Works Cited

Altman, Lawrence K. “AIDS EXPERT SEES NO SIGN OF HETEROSEXUAL OUTBREAK.” The New York Times [New York] 5 June 1987: n. pag. New York Times Online. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/‌1987/‌06/‌05/‌us/‌aids-expert-sees-no-sign-of-heterosexual-outbreak.html?scp=9&sq=AIDS+Outbreak&st=cse&pagewanted=print&gt;.

 Candice. Online posting. City Room. The New York Times Online, 8 Apr. 2009. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/‌2009/‌04/‌07/‌from-stonewall-riots-to-rainbow-pilgrimage/‌#comment-403205&gt;.

Chan, Sewell. “Stonewall Anniversary as Gay Tourism Event.” The New York Times [New York] 7 Apr. 2009: n. pag. New York Times Online. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/‌2009/‌04/‌07/‌from-stonewall-riots-to-rainbow-pilgrimage/‌#respond&gt;.

Chan, Sewell. “Stonewall Uprising Given Role In Tourism Campaign.” The New York Times [New York] 7 Apr. 2009: n. pag. New York Times Online. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/‌2009/‌04/‌08/‌nyregion/‌08tourism.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1320347774-oc9zzHfJ+vD5TvCi+Tp6cQ&gt;.

Darnton, John. “Homosexuals March Down 7th Avenue; Bars Represented To Each His Own.’” New York Times Online. The New York Times , 25 June 1973. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://select.nytimes.com/‌gst/‌abstract.html?res=F70615F63959137A93C7AB178DD85F478785F9&scp=5&sq=Christopher%20Street%20Liberation%20Day%20March&st=cse&gt;.

Dunlap, David W. “Some Gay Rights Advocates Question Drive to Defend Same-Sex Marriage.” The New York Times [New York] 7 June 1996: n. pag. New York Times Online. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/‌1996/‌06/‌07/‌us/‌some-gay-rights-advocates-question-drive-to-defend-same-sex-marriage.html?src=pm&gt;.

McGill, Douglas C. “Homosexuals’ Parade Dedicated to AIDS Victims.” The New York Times [New York] 27 June 1983: n. pag. New York Times Online. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/‌1983/‌06/‌27/‌nyregion/‌homosexuals-parade-dedicated-to-aids-victims.html&gt;.

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I strongly disagreed with the way Gerard R. Wolfe characterized the riot at the Stonewall in <i> New York: 15 Walking Tours: An Architectural Guide to the Metropolis. </i> I understand that it is a guidebook, and not a major historical work. The phrasing “right to assemble peaceably” struck me as odd, and I realized why. The wording makes it sound like a First Amendment issue, when it is closer to a civil rights issue.

There were gay rights groups operating at the time, like the Mattachine Society, or the Daughters of Bilitis, and while they did have to worry about sending materials through the post-office due to obscenity laws, I do not recall having read about police raiding meetings of the organizations. It is quite possible headquarters would have been raided, which could have occurred during a meeting, but that goes back to the obscenity laws. In this hypothetical, the police were not there to disrupt a peaceful meeting, but to find obscene material.

My point is that gays and lesbians had the right to assemble peaceably, but not to socialize. An affectionate gay couple would not be welcomed at most bars during that era. Hand holding and touching would have generated stares from other guests, and possibly a violent reaction outside. The Stonewall Inn and other gay bars served as one of the main venues for socializing. Given the small space in the guidebook, I would have written, “right to socialize free from police harassment.”

 

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